Pursuit to find origin of Titanic headstones leads N.S. geologist to former N.B. quarry
A retired geology professor who set out to find where the rock from Titanic headstones originated from says his pursuit led him all the way to the woods of southwestern New Brunswick.
Barrie Clarke says his journey started 20 years ago after a headstone was damaged by frost and needed to be replaced.
“A colleague brought a small piece of rock in to me and he said, ‘Barrie, where do you think this came from?’ I said, ‘I have no idea, of course, but I'll have to look at it,’" says Clarke.
The headstones ofmany ofthose who died in the sinking of the Titanic were placed in the Fairview Lawn Cemetery in the fall of 1912. White Star, the line that created the Titanic, paid for the black granite markers.
But their origin remains a mystery.
"Stones began to be put up in October and November of 1912, but there was nothing in the records of the White Star line, nothing in provincial archives, nothing in newspapers, nothing in quarrymen's journals. Nothing," says Clarke.
When James Cameron's blockbuster hit was released, worldwide interest was renewed in the Titanic story. Thousands of additional visitors flocked to the Halifax cemeteries where some of the Titanic victims are remembered.
That’s when Clarke began searching for the source of the headstones.
"The four things we need to match are … the geologic age, we need to match the minerals that are in the rock, we need to match the texture – that's the way the minerals grow together – and we need to match the chemical composition," says Clark.
The search eventually connected him with David Stevens, a prospector in Bocabec, N.B.
"(Clarke) knew he was in the right area, he just didn't know precisely where some of the quarries were,” says Stevens. “So we proceeded to find several. He found a lot more on his own and finally it narrowed down."
The quarry located in the woods of southwest New Brunswick is barely recognizable today. But the rockfound at the site todayis the match both men were looking for.
"We have a quarry that has the right kind of rock. It looks right. It's the right mixture of minerals, it's consistent quality and there is still enough left to make the Titanic stones all over again," Stevens says.
The quarry is close to St. George, N.B., which has a long history of producing granite markers and gravestones. There was also a rail line that served the area in 1912, and the headstones could have been put on a rail car and shipped to Halifax.
"It made immediate sense because St. George was the granite town. There were 30 some quarries active all around it," says Stevens.
While all signs point to this former quarry, the two men still wish there was something more.
"There has to be some record out there. There has to be a letter, there has to be a photograph – somebody has one somewhere and it would be wonderful to have corroboration of the scientific answer to this mystery," Clarkssays.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mike Cameron.